Saturday’s loss to Aaron Rodgers was brutal. The Rams came in with the #1 ranked defense and yet they still got the Rodgers Rate. With a diminished Aaron Donald, they were unable to generate pressure and that meant Rodgers and Aaron Jones ran wild like 80s Hulkamania. Jared Goff put in a damn good performance but the Packers had a borderline stranglehold on the time of possession and the Rams couldn’t score each time they had the ball.
Now that fans have all had a chance to cry in their beer, it’s time to perform on autopsy and take stock of what the Rams did right, did wrong, and how they can get better next season.
The Good: Hiring Brandon Staley
After last season, Sean McVay fired Wade Phillips and wanted a defensive coordinator that had a more malleable scheme. Instead of hiring another well-known name, McVay hired a name not on anyone’s radar.
Staley was a linebackers coach under Broncos Head Coach Vic Fangio. Staley had never been a coordinator but McVay formed an instant bond with Staley and loved his approach to defense. Those instincts paid off and Staley transformed the defense into the #1 ranked unit in the league. He built it around stars Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, which allowed everyone else to flourish. John Johnson, Troy Hill, and Darious Williams, along with rookies Jordan Fuller and Terrell Burgess, formed one of the best secondaries in the league.
Up front, the addition of A’Shawn Robinson helped bolster the run defense while Sebastian Joseph-Day and Morgan Fox stepped up as pass rushers. Linebacker was a position of concern heading into the season and while no one outside of Leonard Floyd would be hailed as a Pro Bowler, Kenny Young and Troy Reeder made plays when they had to.
Staley made the defense into an elite unit and unfortunately, he is now the head coach of the Chargers. Some birds weren’t meant to be caged, their feathers are just too bright. Hopefully, McVay promotes secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant.
The Bad: Not Empowering Kevin O’Connell
People forget, but along with hiring Brandon Staley, Sean McVay hired Kevin O’Connell to be his offensive coordinator. This signaled that McVay was finally ready to have another voice in the room as his play-calling last season was unbalanced and he needed to adjust. While the run game drastically improved and the Rams had a more balanced attack, there were too many drives that stalled because of idiotic plays.
Too many ineffective and ill-advised screens, especially on third downs. They were too conservative at times and while some of their plays stemmed from how they felt about their quarterback play (more on that later) it’s still baffling that on long third downs McVay still felt compelled to run draws for Malcolm Brown.
They never quite got their play-action game established, as they used to, and they never really got to establish their three-headed rushing attack of Cam Akers, Darrell Henderson, and Malcolm Brown due to injuries. They also had to be dragged into using their 12 personnel despite it giving the offense a boost. McVay might have listened to O’Connell but not enough and going forward that needs to change.
Furthermore, McVay needs to not allow the Rams to shoot themselves in the foot against the likes of the Jets because it doesn’t take using the time stone to see an alternate timeline where they beat the Jets and get the fifth seed avoiding Green Bay until round three. Perhaps they don’t suffer all those injuries and have to play with one hand tied behind their backs. McVay allows the team to come out flat against lesser competition and in the end, it bit them. He’s self-reflexive enough to run an autopsy on himself but he hasn’t excised those bad habits completely.
The Bad: Special Teams
Nsmiba Webster was a liability in the return game and for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, Cooper Kupp was returning punts. John Bonamego was also a terrible hire as his unit was a far cry from what John Fassel had built in prior seasons.
What’s worse is that Johnny Hekker wasn’t his usual self as the year wore on. The Rams need someone new or they’ll be stuck with poor field position and idiotic fumbles for years to come.
The Good: The Rookies
Once again, without a first-round pick, the Rams managed to find gems in the later rounds. People looked at the Rams with a cocked eyebrow after they picked Cam Akers and Van Jefferson in round-two but Akers paid dividends late in the season with 625 rushing yards and Jefferson showed signs that he will be a fantastic replacement for Josh Reynolds. Jordan Fuller was a sixth-round pick but played like an accomplished five-year vet. Before he got hurt Terrell Burgess showed that he is a force to be reckoned with and could replace John Johnson should he leave in the off-season.
The Bad: Jared Goff
What Goff did in the playoffs is nothing short of commendable. Despite playing with a broken thumb, Goff finished the Seattle game with no turnovers in the face of having 13 picks and seven fumbles during the regular season. In the playoffs, he played with a fire that hadn’t been seen since the Super Bowl season and it can only be because he didn’t take kindly to John Wolford getting the nod.
The rift developing between McVay and Goff seems to be getting worse, with McVay giving a soft committal to Goff being the guy next year. Now, the Rams can’t just cut him as he’d count for a dead cap hit of over $20 million so that’s not an option, and the Rams have no cap space to speak of next year, and they’re not going to spend top dollar on someone else.
The trade market for Goff isn’t exactly robust so for the next two years he’s a Ram, barring a miracle. So perhaps there will be a competition next year and maybe the Rams draft someone with one of the many comp picks coming their way. Fans waiting for Goff to become the guy he was in 2018 are better off waiting for Godot as he hasn’t progressed but regressed. He single-handily cost them at least four games this season and the offense looked inept at times. McVay didn’t trust him to convert on third-down, hence the Malcolm Brown screens.
Furthermore, when Wolford played, the offense was more up-tempo. The bootlegs and sweeps weren’t getting blown up before they could begin because Wolford could actually move. It’s no secret McVay wants a mobile QB and Goff isn’t that. Obviously, Deshaun Watson isn’t coming through that door but perhaps someone else will.
The Good: Prospects For The Future
Despite losing Staley to the Chargers and director of college scouting Brad Holmes to the Lions as their new GM, the Rams will still contend. Holmes getting hired gives the Rams two extra comp picks and with all the players set to be free agents they could get several more giving them a mid-round comp pick bonanza. They don’t have a first, third, or fourth this year but they’ll find a way to find talent anyway.
They need to bolster their line because not only will Andrew Whitworth be 39 when he returns next season, but they still need help on the interior with Austin Blythe likely leaving, Rob Havenstein struggling, and Bobby Evans regressing.
They need more help at linebacker especially with Leonard Floyd headed for a massive contract but even if they don’t find one in the draft they can do what they did with Floyd and find a cast-off and revitalize their career as Tarantino does with actors (paging Jadeveon Clowney).
GM Les Snead and the front office do a great job at drafting players and making smart free-agent pickups. The problem is they give out extensions like they were candy and that’s hamstrung them. Fortunately, they don’t have the money to do that this off-season.
The West is still going to be a gauntlet next year with the Niners reloading and being healthy, Russell Wilson keeping the Seahawks relevant by himself, and the Cardinals offense is still dynamic despite Kliff Kingsbury being their coach. They play the AFC South and the NFC North along with the Bucs and Giants. Not a super easy schedule but they at least have the infrastructure to contend in the NFC.
They have a solid core on offense and a lot of pieces on defense so barring injury they should be back in the playoffs. The 2020 Rams can look at their autopsy and see that they did well despite so many new pieces on offense and defense both on and off the field. They could’ve been a one seed but they had wounds from outside forces and within, keeping them from reaching their true potential, but they still overcame adversity to beat Seattle and keep afloat against the Packers. That’s not bad, not bad at all. Now they just have to build on it and get better.